The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Lot and his family fleeing Sodom and GomorrahAbraham had just finished visiting with God and two angels. God knew Abraham was becoming a great nation with his people doing what was just and right but God knew that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were very evil. God decided to send the two angels into the cities too gauge how wicked the city’s inhabitants had become.

Abraham’s brother, Lot, lived in the city and this must have concerned Abraham. As they waited, Abraham asked God if he would destroy the good people with the bad people and asked God if he would spare the city if there were 50 good people there. God agreed that he would spare the city if 50 decent people could be found. Then Abraham asked God if he would spare the city if 45 good people could be found. Again God agreed that he would spare the city if 45 good people lived there. Then Abraham asked, what about 40” What about 30? 20? What if only 10 good people could be found there?  God told Abraham, “Yes, if 10 good people could be found I would spare the city.”

The two angels arrived in Sodom and Gomorrah in the evening and found Abraham’s brother, Lot, sitting by the gateway to the city. The angels told Lot they would find a place to sleep in town (it was common for travelers to sleep in the streets wrapped in their cloaks) but Lot, being a kind and considerate man, insisted that the angels stay in his home with him and his family. The angels agreed and went into Lot’s home to eat dinner and bed for the night.

AngelA crowd of men surrounded Lot’s house and began shouting to the occupants, “Where are the two guys you took into your home? Bring them outside where we can have sex with them!” Lot, who knew that it was his duty to protect the visitors, pleaded with the crowd to leave his guests alone. Lot even offered to send out his daughters instead. The men became aggressive and moved towards the house to break down the door. The angels recognized the danger and quickly pulled Lot into the house and closed the door. The angels then blinded the men outside so they could not see the doorway.

The angels asked Lot if he had any other family living elsewhere in the city. Lot said that it was just him and his family but that there were two men who were engaged to his daughters. The angels told Lot that they were going to destroy the city and told him that he would have to take his family and flee the city quickly. Lot tried to convince the men who were engaged to his daughters to leave with them the next morning but the men just laughed. When morning came, the angels told Lot to leave – now. Lot hesitated so the angels grabbed him by the arms and rushed Lot and his family out of the city. They told Lot to run away from the city, towards the nearby mountains, and to not look back. Lot asked if, rather than fleeing into the dangerous mountain area, could he instead flee to the city of Zoar. The angels allowed him to flee to Zoar and promised they would not hurt Zoar during their destruction. As the Sun rose, burning sulfur rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. The fire was so great that it destroyed the people, houses, and even all of the plants. Lots wife disobeyed the angels’ instructions and looked back as they were fleeing. She became a pillar of salt.

As the Sun rose higher, Abraham woke up and looked down upon Sodom and Gomorrah and saw the smoke rising from the cities. He knew that God had spared him and his brother Lot from the catastrophe.

What the story means to us today

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates not only God’s judgment against wickedness and evil, but also shows us God’s compassion. It is worthy to note that there were not 50 good people in Sodom and Gomorrah, nor 40, 30, or even 10 good people living within the cities’ walls. There was only one – Lot. And God chose to save him. The story serves as a warning about the dangers of embracing evil as Sodom and Gomorrah chose to do.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The Bible presents the good and the bad

It may be shocking to see Lot offering his daughters to the crowd of men intent on molesting the visiting angels but this is another example of the Bible not whitewashing the stories. When reading the Bible, we see the good and the bad.

Resisting evil in a society full of sin

Lot may have been a good man but he chose to live close to a city, surrounded by wickedness and evil. Lot originally pitched his tent outside of the city walls but chose to make a profit amongst the evil inhabitants rather than taking a stand against evil. It is sometimes hard to resist evil, especially if you place yourself in a situation where you are surrounded by it. As we will see later, in the end Lot never realized the great riches that he dreamt of and instead, found himself living alone in a cave, drunk and senseless.

Lot’s family corrupted by evil

There are some signs that the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah’s inhabitants may have (or began to) rub off on Lot. He offered his daughters to the crowd of men which may be seen as selfish. We will also later see that his daughters were not righteous either. They too may have become corrupted by living in a place filled with wickedness. In all likelihood, Sodom and Gomorrah would have eventually destroyed Lot and his family anyway had he not fled the city as the angels instructed.

Abraham’s pleading with God

To some Abraham’s pleading with God may seem disrespectful. There is nothing wrong with praying to God, asking for something, or asking for guidance in times of need.  In this case, it appears as if Abraham was concerned about the safety of his brother and was simply asking God what his intentions were.

Alternative lifestyles

Many will argue that “alternative lifestyles” are not immoral even though many verses in the Bible specifically indicate homosexuality is a sin. Many ancient civilizations allowed their societies to degenerate to a point where actions that were once considered immoral, were allowed to slowly shift into the realm of acceptance. It is interesting to note that the homosexual act of sex, sodomy, derives its name from the city of Sodom.

The science behind the story

Lot’s location in the city

So why did the angels find Lot sitting by the entrance to the city? It may be that Lot was a judge in the city of Sodom. In those days, it was common for judges to sit by the entrance to the city or other public places where legal and business transactions were conducted.

Where was Sodom and Gomorrah?

Sodom and Gomorrah could be located on the southern end of the Dead SeaSome archaeologists believe that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah lie underneath the southern end of the Dead Sea. There are several reasons for this conclusion. The Bible refers to the “cities of the plain”, which included Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, Zebolim, and Admah. The Bible mentions the kings of these cities joined forces to battle a coalition of Mesopotamian kings and that they were located in the Valley of Siddim or Salt Sea (which clearly refers to the Dead Sea). From this we can conclude that Sodom and Gomorrah are located somewhere near the Dead Sea.

The Bible also notes that Abraham was camped at Mamre (near Hebron) and that he looked out and saw the smoke and ruins of the smoldering cities. In the present day, a person atop Mamre would have a direct view towards the Dead Sea.

In addition, the depth of the Dead Sea on its southern end is much shallower than the northern end. This indicates a more recent formation. And finally, Zoar (where Lot asked to flee to) is on the southern end of the Dead Sea. Archaeologists have found evidence of settlements on the southern end of the Dead Sea but no direct proof that they are Sodom or Gomorrah has been found.

The area near the southern end of the Dead Sea has large deposits of flammable bitumen which could account for the fiery explosions. Other archaeologists believe a volcanic eruption could have accounted for the rain of fire although no evidence of recent volcanic eruptions have been found.

The most likely scientific explanation would be an earthquake combined with the release of sulfur from the ground. The Dead Sea is located along a geological fault line known as the Great Rift Valley. It has been the epicenter of powerful earthquakes for thousands of years. Scientists have proposed that an earthquake could have caused the release of sulfur and bitumen deposits which erupted at the surface releasing large quantities of natural gas into the air above and around the cities. A single spark would have turned the entire plain into a sea of fire.

Bible Text

NIV Version

Chapter 18

16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.a 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spareb the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judgec of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

Chapter 19

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marrya his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords,b please! 19 Yourc servant has found favor in yourd eyes, and youe have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.f)

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.